Blood pythons and short-tailed pythons are a group of 3-6’ long, terrestrial, crepuscular snakes native to the tropical forests of southeast Asia. These snakes are actually four different species within the Python genus: P. breitensteini, P. brongersmai, P. curtis, and P. kyaiktiyo. All but the latter are available in the pet trade.
Blood and short-tailed pythons are notorious for their disproportionately thick bodies, which contrast with their refined rectangular heads. Exact coloration varies by species, but they usually have a blotched pattern in varying combinations of red, orange, yellow, brown, and cream. Sumatran blood pythons (P. curtus) are commonly referred to as “black bloods” because of their unique dark coloring. Most have a thin dark stripe on top of the head between the eyes, and a broad dark stripe on each side extending back from the eyes.
Blood and short-tailed pythons are advanced-level pet reptiles because of their size and sensitivity to inadequate care. Despite their aggressive reputation, they can actually make great pets for people who care for them properly. With good care, blood pythons can live 20 years or more.
For the purposes of this care sheet, the three major species will be collectively referred to as “blood pythons.”
Minimum enclosure size for blood pythons
The absolute minimum terrarium size for a single blood python is 48”L x 24”W x 24”H. Of course, larger is always better, and it can be easily argued that 72” x 24” x 24” is more appropriate. Many people (falsely) believe that blood pythons actually do better in smaller enclosures, but the fact is that they need enough room to stretch out fully, explore, and climb. As long as they have enough places to hide, a large enclosure will not stress them out.
Cohabitation (keeping multiple blood pythons in one enclosure) is not recommended, as blood pythons are not a social species, and keeping them together causes stress.
Do blood pythons need UVB?
Technically they can survive without it, but we still recommend providing appropriate UVB lighting for blood pythons. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits. The light will not stress out your snake as long as it’s not on 24/7.
The best UVB bulbs for blood pythons housed in a 48” x 24” x 24” terrarium are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 5.0, 22”
- Arcadia Forest 6%, 22”
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture. Position the lamp on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp, about 9-11” above the snake’s back if over mesh, and 12-14” above the snake’s back if not.
UVB is blocked by glass and plastic, so placing the terrarium in front of a window doesn’t count as “free UVB” — in fact it can make your terrarium too hot due to the greenhouse effect. Don’t forget to replace your bulb every 12 months!
Lights should be on for about 12 hours/day. All lamps should be turned off at night.
Best temperature for blood pythons
Like other reptiles, blood pythons are cold-blooded, which means that they rely on external temperatures to manage their own body temperature and metabolism. A reptile’s enclosure should offer a range of temperatures to allow them to thermoregulate effectively.
Specifically speaking, blood pythons prefer an environment that is on the cooler end of the spectrum. They should have a basking area temperature of 84-88°F, and a cool side temperature between 75-78°F. Temperatures should be measured with digital probe thermometers to make sure your snake’s environment is always comfortable.
Provide heat for your snake with at least two heat bulbs, placed close together over the basking area (ex: a piece of flagstone or stone paver) to evenly heat the snake’s entire body. Do not use colored bulbs, as these are not as effective.
The warm hide should be placed directly below the basking surface. If the heat lamp is not enough to get the warm hide to an appropriate temperature, use a heat mat connected to a thermostat to control the warm hide temperature.
Best humidity levels for blood pythons
Blood pythons need average humidity levels between 60-75%. Humidity can be measured via digital probe hygrometer, with the probe placed in the middle of the terrarium.
Increase humidity by misting your snake’s enclosure 1-2x/day with a spray bottle. Mist first thing in the morning and then again at night if needed. Alternatively, using a cool mist humidifier connected to a hygrostat can be helpful. Mixing water directly into the substrate also helps with maintaining high humidity. The substrate should stay moist, but not wet or soggy. There should also be a humid hide for your snake, lined with moistened sphagnum moss.
Best substrate for blood pythons
Providing a thick layer of naturalistic substrate (“bedding”) will help cushion your blood python’s body, maintain correct humidity levels, and also helps make your enclosure more attractive! We recommend the following substrates for blood pythons:
- Zoo Med Eco Earth
- Zoo Med ReptiSoil
- Exo Terra Plantation Soil
- Zilla Jungle Mix
- Galapagos Blond Sphagnum Moss
Layering clean, chemical-free leaf litter on top of the substrate can also help with humidity and provides extra cover for your snake!
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a blood python enclosure
An empty terrarium makes for a bored blood python, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Since blood pythons are strictly terrestrial, everything will need to be at ground level. Here are some ideas for making an engaging, enriching enclosure for your snake:
What to feed to a blood python
Blood pythons are carnivores, which means that they need to eat whole animal prey in order to get the right nutrition. Here is a basic feeding schedule based on snake age:
- Hatchlings — every 1-2 weeks
- Juveniles — every 2-3 weeks
- Subadults — every 4-6 weeks
- Adults — every 6-8 weeks
Prey items should be around 10% of the snake’s weight and no more than 1.5x its width at its widest point. Although live prey can be offered, it’s best to use frozen whenever possible. Prey should be thawed in a BPA-free plastic bag in warm water until it reaches 100-105°F, then use a pair of soft-tipped feeding tweezers to offer it to your snake.
One of the keys to great nutrition is variety, so consider rotating mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, quail, and chicks in your snake’s diet.
Blood pythons can survive without supplementation, but using them every once in a while can help prevent your snake from developing a nutritional deficiency, helping it live healthier. We recommend Repashy Calcium Plus LoD, lightly dusted on the prey item before offering.
Of course, don’t forget a large water tub/bowl for your snake to drink from and soak in! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your blood python
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. Blood pythons have a fearsome reputation as cranky, bitey snakes, but the truth is that they only act this way when stressed and uncomfortable. Most captive-bred blood pythons with appropriate husbandry actually tame down quite well!
Here are some tips for success:
- When picking up your blood python, be gentle and try to pick it up from the side or below rather than from above.
- Support as much of its body as possible.
- NEVER pick it up by its tail, as this can damage its spine!
- Keep handling sessions short at first.
- End handling sessions with the snake acting calm before putting it back.
- Wear welding gloves if you’re nervous about bites.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!